Take Back The Snack

August 14, 2017
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By Elizabeth Wulfhorst |

While growing kids are always ravenous, back-to-school time presents its own particular set of issues when it comes to eating. Early morning wake-up calls, lunch when most humans eat breakfast, and after-school activities can all conspire to turn your adorable child into Audrey II, the man-eating plant from “Little Shop of Horrors.”

A little planning can keep the “Feed Me!” bellows to a minimum and mean less stress for mom and dad, and better nutrition for everyone (because, let’s be real, if they’re snacking, you’re probably snacking, too).

“Snacking can definitely be part of a healthy diet,” said Lisa Testa, a nutritionist who runs Healthier You. “The key to healthy snacking, whether it be for adults, teens, or young children, is to always have a variety of healthy and appealing options in the house.”

Before throwing another prepackaged food item at your growling offspring, consider making some homemade noshes you can stash in the freezer or pantry for those times when the hunger pangs overshadow all sense of reason.

“Try to choose a smattering of healthy options,” said Testa, “and possibly include one or two less healthy choices so that the child doesn’t feel deprived, but ends up being excited to try everything in front of him or her.”

If you are home when your child gets home from school – and you have some down time to play “World’s Greatest Parent” – there are many quick and fairly easy snack options: Ants on a Log (nut butter spread on celery and topped with raisins or mini chocolate chips) are always a favorite, as are apple slices with a small spoonful of nut butter for dipping. Both provide crunch, protein and a little sweetness, which will help satisfy the palate and sate the appetite.

Or spread a whole-wheat tortilla with a thin layer of nut butter (or Nutella after a particularly rough day, when chocolate is the only answer) and wrap it around a banana. Slice it into rounds that little fingers can easily grab while doing homework or playing, or spear the pieces on toothpicks, a trick Testa recommends to make any snack more appealing.

“I find children eat nearly anything with a toothpick stuck into it,” she said.

Roasted chickpeas make a crispy and crunchy snack, and a great substitute for greasy potato chips. Drain and rinse a can and toss with a little olive oil and salt – or your favorite taco seasoning or ranch dressing mix for a little more flavor – and roast at 425 F for 20-25 minutes, stirring once. Allow to cool before eating or storing in an airtight container for later.

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Chickpeas are also the main ingredient in hummus, which can be whipped up quickly in a food processor. For a super easy dip, add a tablespoon of lemon juice, a clove or two of garlic, and a pinch of salt to a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas. Puree while slowly adding olive oil (no more than a tablespoon) until it reaches the desired consistency. Serve with celery and carrots.

Yogurt can make a great snack, but can also pack a wallop of sugar. Find a brand you like and stick to the plain or vanilla flavors, which are less likely to have added sugar, and mix in your own chopped fruit or sugar-free jam. Spoon the yogurt into a zip-top bag, snip off a small corner and “pipe” small rounds onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet or plate. Pop them in the freezer for a few hours and you have frozen yogurt buttons, fun and perfect for snacking – no spoon necessary.

If the kids are coming home to an empty house, and they’re mature enough and fairly self-reliant, they can grab a prepared item from the freezer and make it themselves.

Zip-top bags filled with frozen fruit make a delicious smoothie when thrown in the blender with a little milk, almond milk, or water. Add a scoop of chia seeds or oats to the bag to up the protein power. Premade pizza buns  – recipe below – only need a quick reheat in the toaster oven to satisfy the hungriest teen.

Need to pack a snack for the kid who goes from school to dance to debate team practice? Homemade granola bites are easy to make, can be stored in the freezer and make a great on-the-go energy boost. Mix together one cup each oats and coconut flakes with 1/2 cup each peanut butter, ground flaxseed and chocolate chips. Add 1/3 cup honey, a half teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt and stir until combined. Shape into small balls and refrigerate or freeze until ready to eat.

Or put together a smaller version of a Starbuck’s Protein Box: Pick up a cute bento box (a Japanese-style lunch box with multiple compartments) online and fill it with a hard-boiled egg, some sliced fruit, and a handful of nuts, or those roasted chickpeas for folks with allergy concerns.

If you have an eater with daring taste buds, don’t shy away from the unusual. One of the most satisfying snacks I’ve ever had is onigiri – literally “rice ball” in Japanese – short grained sticky rice filled with almost anything, like flaked salmon or tuna, and wrapped in nori (seaweed sheets). These are served cold or room temperature and the seaweed keeps everything contained so it’s easy to eat with one hand.

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One final word of caution: snacks are not meals. Keep the portions small – large enough to satisfy, but not so large that they take the place of dinner. No matter what your taste, with a little planning, snacks can be a fun part of the school day.

And for those days when you don’t have the time or energy? There’s nothing wrong with a cheese stick and a hug.

Pizza Buns

Adapted from King Arthur Flour


1 ¼ cups lukewarm milk

3 Tbls. olive oil

1 ½ tsp. salt

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 ½ tsp. instant yeast


½ cup pizza sauce (your favorite)

2 cups shredded low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella cheese

1 cup finely chopped pepperoni (or other favorite pizza topping)


Place all dough ingredients in a stand mixer and knead with dough hook to make a smooth, soft dough (approximately 5 minutes on medium speed).

Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and let rise until doubled, about an hour. Alternatively, you can purchase your favorite premade pizza dough from your local pizza shop or grocery store.

Gently deflate the dough and transfer to a greased work surface.

Roll out into a 12” x 18” rectangle.

Spread the dough evenly with the sauce, cheese and topping.

Roll the dough as tightly as you can into a log. Cut log into 12 – 18 rounds. This is most easily accomplished using dental floss – wrap a length around the log and pull the ends quickly in opposite directions; it will easily slice through the dough and filling without deflating the round.

Arrange the sliced rounds cut-side down on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise for an hour, until they are nicely puffed. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 F.

Uncover and bake the buns for 25-30 minutes, until they are golden brown. Serve warm.

Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container or zip top bag. Reheat for 5 minutes in a toaster oven at 350 F.

This article was first published in the August 10-17, 2017 Back to School edition of The Two River Times newspaper.

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